Socialist Worker

War in the construction industry escalates as workers stay away from work

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2278

Pickets outside the Redcar power station in Teesside this morning

Pickets outside the Redcar power station in Teesside this morning

The war in the construction industry opened up new fronts today, Wednesday.

Protests on construction sites across Britain turned into mass stay-aways.

For the second time this week groups of construction workers have united with electricians to walk off the job.

At the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station in Nottinghamshire, electricians, scaffolders and welders all stayed out of work.

More than 200 electricians picketed both gates at SSI steel works (formerly Corus), in Redcar on Teeside with the scaffolders and electricians refusing to work.

A student delegation from Teesside University unfurled a banner with “students and workers unite and fight” on it.

One worker from Middlesbrough said, “These protest are about freezing wages. We’re going to need national action as these changes are going to have a knock-on effect on everybody.”

One electrician spoke of the solidarity they have received from students while another spoke about the importance of unity between public and private sector workers.

There was a short meeting that concluded in electricians blocking the Redcar entrance of the site with traffic backed up around the roundabout.

Workers also stayed off the job at the Pembroke power station in Wales. At Ferrybridge power station in West Yorkshire scaffolders, welders and electricians all refused to work.

In Saltend workers on one project protested and in Liverpool 20 workers from the John Moores University site refused to work and joined the protest there.

In London, up to 200 workers protested at the Farringdon Crossrail construction site.

The contractor, Crown House, says it wants to replace teams of electricians with teams made up of only one electrician and eight semi-skilled workers—who will earn a third less.

Two Unite union stewards were recently elected on the site—but management refused to recognise them. After today’s protest they agreed to recognise one of the stewards.

At the site the main delivery gate had mysteriously been locked with what one worker called a “rank and file” padlock so preventing lorries getting in or out.

This produced a flurry of activity from management. But electricians from the site refused to go into work—despite a company photographer trying to photograph protesters.

Other grades that went into work remained in the canteen and refused to work.

One Crown House worker told Socialist Worker, “It looks like a picket line and you don’t cross a picket line do you? It’s important to take a stand.”

On the picket line workers held an impromptu meeting and discussed where to take the campaign. Many were keen on taking the protests to the offices of the companies and to those of the clients.

An official strike ballot of Balfour Beatty electricians is underway and the result is due on 30 November. A number of speakers spoke about how that should be the spark to walking off sites and joining the public sector strikes that day.

The electricians are campaigning to stop building bosses tearing up their national JIB agreement and cutting wages by up to 35 percent.

The contractors attacking the agreement are Bailey Building Services, Balfour Beatty Engineering Services, Tommy Clarke, Crown House Technologies, SES and Spie Matthew Hall.

Former Tory councillor Blane Judd heads up the group of employers. He has claimed that the idea that the new contracts will lead to a “massive pay cuts and workers heading for the sack are total fiction.”

In reality, agencies are already recruiting the new grade of “installers” in preparation for the introduction of the new contracts.

Many of the workers who protested today aren’t covered by the JIB agreement but are covered instead by the “bluebook national agreement. One scaffolder told Socialist Worker, “Our bosses are pushing through a pay freeze for us and pay cuts for the sparks. They are coming for us all, so we all have to fight back together.”

Ucatt votes for strikes

Members of the Ucatt construction workers’ union have voted overwhelmingly to join the 30 November public sector strikes.

Building workers in local government, NHS, the prison service and the civil service voted by a margin of more than four to one in favour of strikes. In total 83 percent voted to strike on a 27 percent turnout.

Pickets block a police van in the road outside the Redcar site

Pickets block a police van in the road outside the Redcar site

Students came to Redcar to show solidarity with the electricians

Students came to Redcar to show solidarity with the electricians

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Article information

Wed 16 Nov 2011, 13:19 GMT
Issue No. 2278
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